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Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien, former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Steve Bullock.

NEW YORK — A former New York City mayoral aide who was quietly forced out of his job over sexual harassment allegations was fired previously for similar reasons.

The Democratic Governors Association in Washington tells The New York Times that Kevin O'Brien was fired in December 2015.

O'Brien had been a senior staff member for Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana. Bullock served a one-year term as chairman of the governors association in 2015 and he sent O'Brien to Washington to be his representative at the organization.

O'Brien left the governors association in December 2015 after a woman employed there accused him of sexually harassing her and an investigation backed her up.

Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio's press secretary, Eric Phillips, said on Monday night that the mayor only became aware of the prior situation as a result of The Times' reporting.

Phillips said that the Department of Investigation, as part of a standard background check, contacted both the governors association and an administrative office that deals with personnel for the state of Montana. He said the department "received confirmation of title and work dates and no adverse information."

"When I was made aware of the complaint against Mr. O'Brien at the Democratic Governors Association, I fully agreed with the decision to end his employment," Bullock said in a written statement.

Bullock's office said Tuesday the governor became aware of the complaint against O'Brien in the first week of December 2015.

In a news story in December 2014 on O'Brien's move to the Democratic Governors Association, Bullock said, “Kevin’s been an adviser, confidant and close friend for many years. I look forward to working with him in his new capacity."

Bullock said that he was "deeply troubled" to learn of the New York accusation when it was reported by The Times earlier this month. The Times story notes there was "no indication" Bullock contacted de Blasio to tell him about O'Brien's behavior. The story also notes Bullock, O'Brien and de Blasio met in October 2017, according to the mayor's schedule.

Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel said Tuesday that Bullock did not tell de Blasio about the dismissal because he believed O'Brien would not harass women again after his firing from the Democratic Governors Association, something Bullock now believes was not a strong enough action to prohibit further women being harmed.

"Gov. Bullock fully agreed with the decision to end Mr. O’Brien’s employment with the DGA and at the time expected that having been held accountable for his actions, Kevin would not repeat this behavior. Knowing what he knows now, it’s clear to Bullock the DGA termination wasn’t enough to protect more women from what has proven to be an unacceptable pattern of behavior. We all have a responsibility to do better and put an end to sexual harassment, and Bullock is committed to doing his part," Abel said.

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O'Brien started work at City Hall, as deputy chief of staff, on Jan. 24, 2016, and was promoted to acting chief of staff in early 2017. He served in that capacity until the end of that year, following de Blasio's re-election, when he became a senior adviser to the mayor.

In February 2018, two women accused Mr. O'Brien of sexual harassment and he was forced to quit City Hall, although he remained on the payroll until late March. But City Hall at the time made no announcement about Mr. O'Brien's departure or the reason for it.

When reached for comment on Monday, O'Brien issued a statement nearly identical to one that he released after the circumstances of his departure from City Hall were recently disclosed, blaming alcohol abuse for making "horrible decisions."

"There's no excuse for what I've done. I'm embarrassed and ashamed," he said. "No one deserves to be treated that way. I've apologized to the people I've hurt and will continue to do so because I am truly sorry."

In Montana, O'Brien previously worked for Bullock when he was attorney general and in the governor's office, as well as on Bullock's 2012 campaign for governor. Bullock's office said Tuesday there were no claims of harassment brought against O'Brien during his time as a state employee or as a campaign employee in 2012.

O'Brien previously worked for the Montana Democratic Party, which said Tuesday after reviewing its records said “We have no record of any reports of sexual harassment while O’Brien was employed at the Party.” 

O'Brien also previously worked for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. Tester's office said Tuesday in a review of its personnel files from 12 years ago, there was nothing to indicate any allegations of misconduct by O'Brien.

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State Bureau reporter for The Independent Record.

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